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Monday, September 17, 2012

Syria Said to Have Tested Chemical Weapon Delivery Systems

The Syrian army is believed to have tested missile systems for the delivery of chemical weapons with the aid of experts sent by Iran, according to a report in the German weekly Der Spiegel. The tests took place near a research centre in Safira, east of Aleppo, with the firing of empty rounds by tanks and aircraft, and members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards also attended the tests, according to statements. The centre in Safira, although listed by the Assad regime as a “scientific research” operation, is said to produce chemical agents such as sarin and mustard gas. Meanwhile, missiles fired from Syrian fighter jets hit a remote area on the edge of the Lebanese border town of Arsal in one of the most serious cross-border attacks since the beginning of the Syrian civil war 18 months ago. “I heard several explosions and saw four clouds of dust billowing from the area”, said Arsal resident Nayeh Izzedine to the Associated Press. “I don’t know if it was an air raid but there was a plane in the sky”. Syrian forces are believed to be pursuing rebels operating in the area and Lebanese forces have in the past detained weapons smugglers who were trying to enter Syria with their caches in the same region.

Protests Against Anti-Muslim Film Sweep the Islamic World

New protests against a U.S.-produced anti-Islam film were carried out in the sixth day of demonstrations sweeping the Muslim world. Police vehicles were torched amidst a firefight between protesters and security forces in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Similar demonstrations were held in the volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, on the border with Afghanistan, where one protester was killed by police. Three thousand protesters burned U.S. and Israeli flags in Lanao del Sur, a province of the Philippines were Muslims constitute a majority of the population. Students also marched in Yemen, but were prevented from approaching the U.S. embassy by local security forces, while similar demonstrations were held in the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, also saw demonstrators take to the streets to pelt American commercial interests with stones, an unusual scene for a country where marches tend to be peaceful. Tens of thousands of protesters also rallied in Beirut in demonstrations organised by Hezbollah, the Shia Muslim militant group.

Japanese Firms Shut Operations, Citizens Scared Into Hiding in China

Violent anti-Japan protests in China have forced some factories to suspend their operations in the country amidst security concerns. Panasonic said its factory in Qindao would remain shut for two days, a decision also taken by Canon at three plants across China. Carmakers Honda, Nissan and Mazda are similarly stopping production for two days. The violence was sparked by news that Japanese had bought a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea for almost $30 million last week. China then sent two ships towards the islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Some Japanese citizens residing in China have also been frightened into hiding. “I’m not going out today and I’ve asked my Chinese boyfriend to be with me all day tomorrow”, said Sayo Morimoto, a 29-year-old Japanese graduate student interviewed by Reuters. The weekend protests targeted the many Japanese diplomatic missions dotted around China, but also any commercial concerns associated with the country.

Spain Fudges on Possible Bailout; France, Germany Fall Out of Love with EU

Spanish daily El País reports a serious split within the country’s government about requesting a possible bailout for Spain’s stricken economy. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants to avoid a rescue, anxious to keep an image of strength before the Spanish electorate, while Finance Minister Luis de Guindos insists there is no more time to waste. Rajoy instructed De Guindos to “negotiate every single detail, have everything ready if we have to ask for a bailout, but also look everywhere for an alternative solution”. Reasons for this indecision include regional elections in the Basque Country and Galicia on October 21. Meanwhile, France and Germany seem to be out of love with the European Union. French daily Le Figaro reports that 64% would vote against the Maastricht Treaty, which was passed with a slim 51% majority in 1992. In Germany, Die Welt revealed polling numbers that show that 49% of Germans believe they would be better off without the euro.

Myanmar Releases More Than 500 Inmates, Dissidents Included

Myanmar announced on Monday that it would release 514 detainees, including some foreigners, amidst a general amnesty that comes days before a visit to the United States by the country’s reformist President, Thein Sein. A government bulletin on state television did not identify the prisoners, but an official of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) told Reuters that he was “optimistic that these are the remaining political prisoners”. Naing Naing added that he had received word of the impeding release from a Thai-based group that tracks these prisoners, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). The United States had repeatedly called for the release of political dissidents as a pre-condition for a relaxation of the trade ban currently imposed upon Myanmar in response to human rights abuses.

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